The French national education system has more stringent requirements than private academies and schools.
While private schools may let you work with a TEFL certificate, state schools require you to pass a concours – a type of competitive exam – before you can teach.
In addition you will probably be assigned a post by the educational authorities for your local area (this usually covers a few departments), and may be required to teach in a different town within this area, which can be inconvenient.
Salaries are usually higher, and having a contrat à durée indeterminée (CDI - indefinite length contract) from the government provides a host of benefits.
Recent changes to the education system mean that some schools hire teachers on a contractuel basis – these are temporary positions under a contrat à durée determinée (CDD), usually to cover full-time teachers who are currently not working.
Some private and international schools may hire you without the teaching degrees required below, but this is on a case by case basis, and usually requires you to have past teaching experience.
Who will you be teaching, and where?
The schools we are looking at here are specifically collège and lycées, which cover pupils between the ages of 11 to 18.
If you have experience teaching younger children, you may be able to find a position teaching English at a primary school, although English is not always part of their curriculum.
To teach in a French secondary school, there is a fairly long list of requirements.
French natives usually require an English language degree – although if a native English speaker this can be bypassed – as well as a teaching degree known as a MEEF (Métiers de l'enseignement, de l'éducation et de la formation).
You are not required to have teaching qualifications from your previous country, but it will certainly help your case if you do.
Young Americans can apply to the TAPIF (Teaching Assistant Program in France) programme – run in conjunction by the US and French governments.
This programme allows you to work for 12 hours per week in a French public school as an English language teaching assistant, without requiring any certificates. However, it is only a temporary role that lasts for a few months, and only available to university-age Americans.
The Capes exam
Crucially, to teach in a state school you must pass the Capes (Certificat d'aptitude au professorat de l'enseignement du second degré), a concours-style exam.
In general, the Capes can only be taken by EU nationals although there may be some exceptions for those who are not EU nationals but hold a valid residency card. You should contact the education authorities in your department to see if this is the case.
No matter how good your grades are, only a set number of people – those with the highest scores – are accepted, meaning a good grade in the exam does not guarantee an offer.
The number of teachers hired each year changes, depending on demand; in 2022 around 5,000 new posts were available across all teaching professions.
The Capes for teaching English is seen as a particularly difficult exam due to the contents of the course.
Rather than covering English grammar knowledge and teaching skills the exam looks at translation of English to French (and vice versa) and comparison of texts.
In recent years the exam has begun to focus more on elements of teaching, including cultural knowledge.
See our article on an English native speaker who failed the test twice.
Because of the translation exercises you will need to have excellent French skills to pass the Capes, as well as to communicate with your students in the classroom.
What are the benefits?
Compared to teaching English privately with a TEFL certificate, obtaining a Capes to work in the public education system is a lot more difficult, and can sometimes take years of dedication.
In return, however, once you pass the concours and are given a position, you essentially have a career for life within the field.
Teachers at public schools with a Capes are given a CDI, or permanent contract) from the government.
This makes all teachers with a Capes fonctionnaires (civil servants).
Not only does this provide you with an extremely high level of job security – much higher than working in private teaching institutions – but it can assist with other elements life in France.
For example it can be easier to get a mortgage if you have fonctionnaire status; banks are more likely to view you as a low-risk investment, due to your job security.
How much do you get paid?
A first job in a secondary school should pay about €1,800 net per month, but this could climb up to around €3,000 per month with experience in the position.
If you take the agrégation – a more difficult exam than the Capes, but one which allows you to also teach in elite preparatory schools in France – your base salary will be higher, even if undertaking the same role as a counterpart with only a Capes certificate.
As explained, it is possible to work in a school, without passing a Capes, if you have a bachelor’s degree in the subject you wish to teach (or two years of university education and a year of teaching experience).
These positions do not offer CDIs but instead temporary CDD contracts, either with part-time or full-time hours.
The positions can be anywhere from one term to an entire year of teaching a class, subject to the availability of positions in your field and your location.
If the contract covers an entire school year you will have the same holiday entitlement as other teachers at the school.